Weekly Quick Hits (RTP) – Week of July 3, 2023

By Alex Keown
July 7, 2023

Quick Hits is BioBuzz’s weekly round up of all the life science news you don’t want to miss, in your region of interest. Don’t miss a beat; SUBSCRIBE to our weekly Quick Hits newsletter via LinkedIn (BioHealth Capital Region, Greater Philadelphia, Research Triangle Park) or get it delivered to your inbox every week.

Funding, Awards and Collaborations 

Labcorp Launches CRO Spinoff in RTP

Contract research organization Fortrea completed its spinoff from Labcorp, bringing a company valued at $3 billion with 19,000 employees to Research Triangle Park. Fortrea’s business is specifically designed to address customers’ holistic needs across two reporting segments: Clinical Services and Enabling Services. Its Clinical Services segment provides phase I-IV clinical solutions, including clinical pharmacology and comprehensive clinical development capabilities, that are tailored to customer needs. Its Enabling Services segment provides technology-enabled solutions and post-approval patient access services. The new company begins with an established customer base in multiple countries across the globe. 

Opus Genetics Raises $4.5 Million

RTP-based Opus Genetics raised $4.5 million to support its developmental programs targeting blindness. According to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company aims to raise up to $20 million. Opus’ lead asset is LCA5, which combats early-onset retinal degeneration. The first clinical data from this program is expected this summer. A second asset, Best1, could enter the clinic next year.

Brii Biosciences Expands Focus on Hepatitis B Through Licensing Agreement

Brii Biosciences Limited expanded its focus on hepatitis B through new licensing agreements with VBI Vaccines, Inc. valued at more than $200 million. The agreements with VBI signify a substantial expansion in the fight against HBV infection. In the first agreement, Brii Bio’s exclusive license for BRII-179 (VBI-2601) is extended to worldwide markets, further establishing its leadership position in pursuing HBV functional cure. Additionally, Brii Bio acquired exclusive rights to develop and commercialize PreHevbri in Greater China and Asia Pacific countries. PreHevbri is a clinically differentiated 3-antigen adult HBV prophylactic vaccine approved for use in the United States, European Union/European Economic Area, United Kingdom, Canada, and Israel.

Phil and RedHill Biopharma Partner to Increase Access to Talicia

Bay Area-based Phil Inc., a patient access platform company, partnered with Raleigh-based RedHill Biopharma to make its medication Talicia (omeprazole magnesium, amoxicillin, and rifabutin) available via the PhilRx Patient Access Platform. The PhilRx Patient Access Platform provides end-to-end visibility into the entire prescription life cycle, starting the moment the physician writes a prescription. The partnership between Phil and RedHill enables patients to receive Talicia prescriptions quickly, easily, and affordably. 

In the Clinic

CoImmune Publishes Clinical Data for CMN-001 in Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma

CoImmune, Inc., which is based in Durham, announced the publication of a review of the company’s clinical development program evaluating CMN-001, a dendritic cell-based immunotherapy electroporated with autologous tumor RNA to treat metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC). The review is published in Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics, a peer-reviewed journal sponsored by the International Society for Vaccines. The publication reviews the early clinical development of CMN-001, including a previously completed multicenter Phase III clinical trial that demonstrated synergy between CMN-001 and an mTOR blocker, everolimus, in a retrospective data analysis.

Research Roundup

CoImmune Preclinical Data Demonstrates Efficacy, Specificity of CAR-CIK Cells in AML

CoImmune, Inc., a clinical-stage immunooncology company based in Durham, announced the publication of preclinical data demonstrating that a strategy based on the company’s proprietary Chimeric Antigen Receptor-Cytokine Induced Killer (CAR-CIK) cell platform provides advantages over single-targeting CARs including improved efficacy and high specificity in a model of acute myeloid leukemia. The preclinical data are published in Blood Advances, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Society of Hematology. The article describes an approach to developing CAR-CIK cells that co-express a first-generation low-affinity anti-CD123 interleukin-3–zetakine (IL-3z) and an anti-CD33 as co-stimulatory receptor without activation signaling domains (CD33.CCR). The dual strategy demonstrated “powerful antitumor efficacy against AML targets without any relevant toxicity on hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPCs) and endothelial cells,” the company said. 

Researchers identify new mechanism, cancer hijacks enzyme substrate motif mutations

Using a newly developed algorithm and a validation study, two labs in the UNC School of Medicine found that cancer hijacks a class of enzyme motif mutations to fuel tumorigenesis. Scientists in the Liu and Tan labs at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center have been studying mutations of enzyme recognition motifs in substrates, which may more faithfully reflect enzyme function with the potential to find new targets or directions for cancer treatment. 

They discovered that colon cancer “hijacks” BUD13 mutations, a protein-coding gene, to sidestep the phosphorylation that are carried out by AGC kinase. Colon cancer prefers these BUD13 mutations because it gains an additional benefit by inactivating an E3 ligase called Fbw7, the team reported. “Turning off” Fbw7, a crucial tumor suppressor, causes an increase in tumor growth and therapy resistance, according to the team. The results were published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Improvement to CRISPR Gene Editing Could Make It More Effective

Identifying the root of challenges facing CRISPR gene editing led a research team at Duke Health to find an improved approach to gene editing that expands its functionality. In work appearing in the journal Cell Chemical Biology, the Duke team lays out a new way to identify diverse CRISPR RNA variants that can specifically home in on challenging areas of DNA to target for editing. The new approach opens up more of the genome for editing, enabling the repair of mutations associated with more diseases. The Duke team found a way to salvage a dysfunctional guide RNA, which has two components that complement each other: an RNA sequence that recognizes the DNA target site and a scaffolding sequence that holds the enzyme in place to cleave the DNA at the right juncture. The team found multiple RNA sequences that revived the integrity of the scaffolding, demonstrating that CRISPR gene editing technology is much more adaptable than previously believed.

UNC Professor Receives Grant to Study HIV Vaccination in Infant Disease Models

Kristina de Paris, professor in the UNC Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and her colleagues were awarded a $7.5 million grant for their project entitled “Determinants of HIV broadly-neutralizing antibody precursor induction in infants.” The grant is sponsored by the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The researchers will study changes in the infant rhesus macaque’s antibody response after receiving different HIV vaccine components called adjuvants. They will also be studying the interactions between host immunity and naturally occurring bacteria in the microbiome, in response to vaccination.